Done with Fitz - OPINION
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 01, 2012 @ 10:56am
It’s not Ryan Fitzpatrick’s fault that he had to face Tom Brady yesterday, that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers squared off in an epic QB clash in the televised game after the Bills’ 52-28 loss. If you missed out on the action, Fitz threw four interceptions—two in the second half during a stretch where the Pats scored TDs on six straight drives.
Watching Brady, Brees and Rodgers complete deep-outs, sling the ball confidently into the arms of tightly-covered receivers and play with impeccable poise in late-game situations made me—and I’m sure hundreds of other Bills fans—wince and wish that the Buffalo organization had placed more of a stress on grooming a quarterback of the future, even if that meant a few seasons of 3-13 instead of 7-9.
Fitzpatrick’s flaws weren’t hidden in the previous three games; they were just a little masked by the inferiority of opposing quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. The Bills’ No. 14 leads the league in both touchdowns (12) and interceptions (7), mixing occasional brilliance—the two Chandler scores yesterday—with mind-boggling decisions (any of the four picks). The NFL, as we’ve all been made painfully aware by ESPN, is a quarterback-driven, passing-focused league that requires a confident signal-caller, a difference-maker with a compelling skill-set.
This fact hasn’t been lost on most teams, either. Enter Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Griffin III, all starting quarterbacks who’ve been invested in heavily by their respective organizations, who also have the composition of potential star NFL QBs. While these offenses may struggle through the growing pains of these gunners—and all of the above have, except for maybe Griffin—there’s the promise that, when these quarterbacks reach their prime (say, 29 or 30), they’ll routinely be considered playoff teams.
This kind of progression hasn’t happened with the Bills since the failures of Rob Johnson, Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman—only one of whom was taken in the first round. Fitzpatrick, the quintessential Buffalo athlete in the sense that he’s an “underdog,” a lunch-pail carrying type who holds barbeques in his backyard after home games, simply isn’t the answer.
He’s endearing and, when handed a little luck and decent defense, can win a football game. He’s not a player you feel confident in, though. And how can you? He throws off his back foot regularly, tosses deep-balls up for grabs and regresses as the Buffalo weather deteriorates.
We listened to the ribs excuse after last year, which gave Fitzpatrick an image as an admirable tough-guy unwilling to let pain take him away from an offense he led to a 5-2 start, even as the losses continued to mount. We saw how excited the Bills Mafia became when ESPN ran the puff-piece on the off-season training regimen established by new QBs coach David Lee intended to improve Fitzpatrick’s mechanics. Healthy ribs and refined mechanics? It was only a matter of time before the Bills had their own, albeit late-arriving, QB1. Visions of deep passes falling softly into T.J. Graham’s outstretched arms swirled in the minds of Bills fans as they lay dozing in the summer heat, craving for Week One.
Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick is the same quarterback that stumbled down the stretch in 2011, and it’s time to mercilessly end this project. The quarterback position is too vital to entrust to an inconsistent athlete with a weak arm, even if $24 million of Fitzpatrick’s seven year, $62 million deal is guaranteed. The sooner the Bills invest a high pick in a Matt Barkley, an E.J. Manuel, a Tyler Bray or a Geno Smith, the more quickly the Bills will return to the playoffs. This isn’t rocket science.
Will Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey come to grips with the financial mistake the organization made in securing Fitzpatrick long-term? Since last year’s 5-2 start, Fitz has thrown for 22 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, and the Bills are 3-10 in that span. During that frame, he’s also completed just 270 of 465 passes, a few notches below the 60% mark—a stat that would put him alongside Colt McCoy, Kevin Kolb, Rex Grossman and Joe Flacco from last season’s final stats.
The Pistol-spread offense is tailored to suit Fitzpatrick’s talents, and he’s still not consistently winning games. I realize the Harvard graduate isn’t the only problem, but he’s a big one. Top tier QBs lead their teams to the playoffs. The Bills do not have a top tier QB—or even one with the potential to develop—on their roster. Until they do, they’ll remain irrelevant.
(Photo from the Buffalo Bills’ Facebook page.)